Online M.B.A. degrees are becoming more popular than ever as big brand schools get into the marketplace and enrollment in them grows. For students who don’t want to quit their jobs and need the flexibility to gain some sense of balance between their personal and professional lives.
But is an online M.B.A. degree actually worth it? Our own surveys of recent alumni of these programs show exceptionally high student satisfaction in online M.B.A.s, particularly as the best schools. At the top of the satisfaction curve, it’s common for more than half the students to attribute a raise or a promotion at work as a direct result of their online program. Even more surprising, 40% or more of the students say they have changed jobs entirely thanks to their online degrees (see Online M.B.A. Programs That Deliver Great Career Outcomes).
“If you are in an industry that you really like, if you are with an organization that you feel very comfortable with, but you need to develop greater breadth or depth of your skills, then considering an online program is a great option for you,” says Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Dean Idie Kesner. “You’re not ready to step away from your job, but you have these opportunities and you know you need more. You know you have gaps and you need to fill those gaps.”
She recently made those comments at one of three one-hour-long panel discussions on online M.B.A. programs I had the pleasure to moderate at Kelley. And what about outcomes? “Our online students have about a 29% increase in their average salary as they’re going through the program,” says Kesner. “And 64% of our students have received a promotion either while they’re going through the program, or within six months of graduation. So there’s evidence to indicate that they’re getting a lot out of this program and they’re leveraging it back in their organizations.”
In general, online M.B.A. programs are really good for those who want to accelerate their careers in an existing company or industry. Because you lack the opportunity to do a summer internship that helps a person transition into a new field, it is often assumed that an online MBA isn’t the ideal option for a career switcher. But Kelley is at the forefront of the schools that is changing this mindset, using one-on-one career coaching, mentorship, and experiential learning immersions to substitute for that summer internship full-time M.B.A.s often use to pivot in a new career direction.
The school recently put four business development officers in four different parts of the country: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston and Bloomington, Indiana, for the midwest. Those four officials have one assignment: cultivate relationships with companies and gain M.B.A. job postings for Kelley’s graduate students, particularly its Kelley Direct online cohort. In the last four months alone, this team has generated more than 800 new job postings, many at companies that had not previously recruited the school’s students.
“We’ve actually been generating jobs at a two to one clip that would be a better fit for a Kelly Direct student than for an in-resident student,” explains Eric Johnson, executive director of Kelley’s Graduate Career Services during one of our panels together. “In theory, a Kelley Direct student could start a new job on February 1 or October 1. An online student is really in the experienced hire marketplace, which means we don’t need jobs that only start in June and July and August.
“If I go to a company, like Apple, and they say, ‘Man, we need somebody now, we can’t wait until June.’ My team could say, ‘Well, we actually have a population of students who could do that, in addition to some alums that we can do some outreach to. We have students who’d be qualified for this right now. Let us get that job posting in front of them, we’ll collect some resumes for you.’ It’s improved our ability to deliver on the corporate customer experience as well as meet our students where they’re at.”
That’s just one of the ways that an online M.B.A. program is definitely proving its worth. But it’s important to make an informed decision before writing out a check to any school. The bottom line is that an online M.B.A. experience is worth the investment–if you invest the time to do the right due diligence on these programs and get the right fit for yourself.